Some Advocates Urge Obama Administration To Further Policy Changes Regarding Drug Use, Harm Reduction
The Obama administration has reversed a decades-old policy and approved federal funding for needle-exchange programs, and some advocates and others who work with injection drug users worldwide are welcoming the shift in U.S. policy, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Gerry Stimson, executive director of the International Harm Reduction Association, said that the U.S. "has been a big block on harm reduction at the international political level," but that is "beginning to change, and it's changed quite suddenly." According to the Monitor, some advocates are calling on the U.S. to make further changes by supporting programs aimed at IDUs in developing countries.
According to Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, HIV/AIDS experts say that needle-exchange programs, peer-led education and substitute therapies -- like methadone treatments -- have proven to be effective in preventing new cases of the disease among IDUs. However, only a small portion of the $14 billion spent globally in 2008 for fighting HIV/AIDS was spent on such programs, he said. In addition, some U.S. diplomats continue to object to including harm reduction strategies in United Nations counternarcotics declarations. The Monitor reports that the Obama administration has not changed rules implemented under former President George W. Bush that ban the use of U.S. foreign aid money to finance needle-exchange programs.
According to the Monitor, several Asian countries have begun to reach out to IDUs in light of the health risks associated with drug use. For example, the Chinese government is starting methadone clinics and outreach services, while Indonesia is inviting advocates to visit its prisons. Gray Sattler, a regional adviser on HIV/AIDS at the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in Bangkok, Thailand, said that reducing the spread of HIV is "one of the very powerful arguments that we use with governments and that they need to think about." He added, "Many of the epidemics of HIV in this region have been, and continue to be, driven by the spread of HIV among drug users because they don't have access to a comprehensive package (of services)" (Montlake, Christian Science Monitor, 4/21).